Adavu: supporting survivors of trafficking in the West Midlands

31 July 2023

Adavu was founded in 2011 by Deacon Kerry Scarlett and Revd Stephen Willey as a project of the Birmingham Methodist District to help people who had been trafficked into the United Kingdom. So far, 230 men and women have been helped by the charity.

Rose was a child bride. After she fled her marriage, she was groomed by her boyfriend and forced into domestic slavery and exploitation before being trafficked to the UK where she was further sexually exploited. When she discovered she was pregnant, her ‘boyfriend’ wanted her to have a termination, and at this point she managed to escape. She was helped and supported by Adavu and now knows that she has rights, responsibilities and the freedom to make choices.  

Adavu started out as an organisation that put professionals and victims together, but the team soon realised that there were no professional services to help survivors of modern slavery. According to the charity, Walk Free, there are thought to be around 122,000 people living as modern slaves across the United Kingdom.  

“When we go upstream to explore the causes of trafficking and exploitation, we find ourselves lost in a complex maze of tributaries and hidden streams. As we look more closely, we begin to realise that embedded poverty, corruption, discrimination and lack of opportunity are among the issues which leave people living precarious lives and open to exploitation. Our own systems and structures here in the UK are not only putting people at risk of being trafficked but risking the re-trafficking and exploitation of those left vulnerable by the lack ok of appropriate support they offer,” explains Deacon Kerry Scarlett, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2023-2024. The field of anti-trafficking is complex and so is the support needed by survivors.

Adavu secured funding in 2016 to provide direct support to survivors in the West Midlands. “We help survivors, raise awareness, provide training and create partnerships with local and national networks,” explains Liisa Wiseman, Adavu’s Project Manager. The team is small but motivated with Liisa, two caseworkers and a well-being worker. They work across the West Midlands with the help of three volunteers. Adavu cannot operate on its own and has several collaborations with charities, local authorities and the police.

The support given to the survivors ranges from three months to four years, depending on the depth and complexities of their needs. The vast majority of their cases have been confirmed by the Home Office as having been trafficked. Adavu gets involved when the Government’s work supporting them has finished.  “It's long-term rehabilitative work. We get to know them as people, develop trust, understand them and help them understand what their trauma is and how to rebuild their lives,” adds Liisa.

The team offers practical help to survivors and shows them how to navigate the housing system, the legal system, how to get legal representatives, find a job or finish their education, and access health services and social support, to name but a few. “I cannot believe you helped me find a job. Things have changed so much for me and it wouldn't have been possible without your help and support,” said one survivor.

Yet, a huge part of the job is to offer emotional support as many of them are traumatised and have developed anxiety, depression and post-traumatic syndrome. “I have not had support like I received from Adavu before coming to you and since leaving. I am so thankful, you really understood me and encouraged me to not lose hope and to look to the future,” explains Rose.

Adavu only helps adults but, as some of them have children, they also connect their clients with toddler groups in their communities. “There is a lot of work that we do, in whatever way they need, just trying to support them so that they can rebuild their lives,” says Liisa. Most of them do not have contact with their family, so they are isolated socially. Many also are refugees and asylum seekers, which adds an extra layer of support to be provided.

Adavu’s team wants to expand their catchment area so they can increase the number of people they are supporting and they are also looking to develop their volunteer base. They are also hoping to expand their well-being work and provide survivors with tools to make their voices heard, notably on how Adavu can improve its work and have a say in the field of anti-trafficking on a national or even supporting and level. “We need a collaborative, relational approach, which prioritises lived experience. It is through listening to and learning from victims and survivors, and working in solidarity with them, that justice and transformation occurs,” adds Kerry.

Adavu has its roots in Methodism. Even though it is an independent charity, it still upholds Methodist values and offers survivors spiritual support if they want it.  We are very proud of what we've achieved so far and are achieving,” says Liisa.

Working collaboratively with many partners, Adavu has raised awareness and understanding of the issue of modern slavery in the region and advocated for justice. The charity has also developed specific, quality casework to support more than 230 adult survivors and help them build lives of freedom and independence in their local communities. “I appreciate what you’ve done and I can say that I am 100% sure you are the best,” concludes Rose. 

The names of victims have been changed to protect their identity.

Find out more about Adavu and how you can support their work at www.adavu.org.uk